Ten years ago, we almost moved to Port Townsend. As much as we love our hometown and our friends in Ashland, we were enamored with the idea of living in a town just as cool as Ashland, but surrounded by water, with boating adventures at our doorstep and within easy reach of the San Juan Islands. We put our home on the market, found a tiny dream house in Port Townsend—and then changed our minds. The timing just wasn’t quite right.
A few years later, we decided to travel fulltime. We’re glad we didn’t make the big move to Port Townsend, because we surely wouldn’t have left a new home to travel. But we still harbor a fondness for Port Townsend, and stop there almost every year en route to our summers on Lopez Island. Each time, we find the town just as appealing as we did the first time around.
Port Townsend is a gem. But not an overly polished gem, which suits us just fine. Positioned at the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, the location is idyllic, with expansive views of protected waters and distant snow-capped mountains.
View from the waterfront on a busy day
Music on the waterfront; there’s always something interesting and spontaneous happening
Port Townsend experienced a building boom in the late 1880’s when the idea of connecting the town to the transcontinental railroad was hatched. Many believed that the town was destined to become a major shipping port on the west coast, akin to San Francisco.
Elaborate Victorian homes, mercantile establishments, and enormous brick waterfront warehouses sprung up to meet the anticipated demand. But only a decade later, the dream evaporated when the railroad stopped short in Tacoma.
People moved away, grand buildings and warehouses sat empty, and Port Townsend was essentially frozen in time. When historic preservation became popular in the 1970’s, new life was breathed into the town. Walking and biking around Port Townsend feels like being transported back in time to a prosperous and bustling Victorian seaport.
Wonderful old brick buildings with original signage, circa late 1800’s
Walkable and interesting downtown Port Townsend
The Downtown Waterfront District was once the rough and rowdy area of Victorian Port Townsend—shanghaiing men and pressing them into service on a merchant ship was common practice. The town is much tamer today, although still colorful. Unique independent shops, galleries, boutique hotels, and cafés occupy 1880’s era saloons, rooming houses, brothels, and warehouses. Up on the hill, in the swanky Uptown District, grand old Victorian homes and churches predominate.
There’s no end to historical buildings in Port Townsend; this is the Uptown District
A Victorian beauty, well preserved in the Uptown District
We plan our visits to coincide with the weekly farmers’ market. Port Townsend is a small town, but the farmers’ market is superb. Local, organic, creative, delicious—it rivals any market we’ve found anywhere. There’s a tiny market on Wednesdays, but the Saturday market is the one you want to go to.
Enormous organic lettuce bouquets at the Port Townsend farmers’ market
Delicious cheeses from Mt. Townsend Creamery; we bought the truffled chevre. Wow.
Happy to be finding local fresh and smoked salmon
Cape Cleare is some of the best salmon we’ve ever had
Paella masters at the Saturday farmers’ market
Seafood paella with local mussels; a divine combination
Entertainment at the farmers’ market (and taxi service)
Our favorite thing to do in Port Townsend is to bike and walk, exploring neighborhoods in both the Uptown and Downtown Districts. Everything is easily walkable, and there’s an appealing artistic flair to the entire town. Still strongly tied to its maritime beginnings, Port Townsend is known as the wooden boat mecca of the northwest. The town hosts one of the largest wooden boat festivals in the world each September. It’s a blast—if we weren’t headed elsewhere, we would return for the festival. Maybe next year.
Colorful sailboats in the marina
Bronze otters on the waterfront
Biking along Port Townsend’s waterfront
A neighborhood farm stand
Lunch at Owl Sprit Café; local and delicious offerings (Yes, it is sprit, not spirit).
An evening at the Rose Theatre; cozy seating, movies and cocktails. But get there early or you’ll end up in the front row with a crick in your neck, despite the cushy sofas.
Along with visiting our favorite spots in Port Townsend, we always look for something new. This time, we discovered Finnriver Cidery. Located in nearby Chimacum, they produce delicious hard ciders and fruit wines from their own organic apples and other local organic fruits. It’s going on our list of Port Townsend area favorites. Next time, we’ll plan to be there on a weekend, when local food trucks and musicians show up.
Cider tasting; lots of fun and really yummy
Relaxing at Finnriver Cidery with a blackberry lavender cocktail
About the campground:
Our favorite place to stay in Port Townsend is Fort Worden State Park. There are two separate campgrounds, one in the forest, and one on the beach. We like both (the forest campground is more private, the beach has views). Make your reservations early; this place is popular. There was one site left when I made our reservations in January for the end of June (no surprise, it was just before the holiday weekend).
Although we had a site staked out in the middle of a field in the beach campground, it was spacious and quiet, with the beach just over the dunes. If I had a choice, I’d choose one of the sites on the perimeter that backs up to the trees for more privacy (not on the beach front, this can be a windy place). The beach campground has full hookups and decent Verizon coverage. It’s the best choice if you have a big rig. Fort Worden is just a couple of miles from town.
Beach campground at Fort Worden; that’s what I call a spacious site. Fortunately it wasn’t windy while we were there.
On To Edison-Bow: Our Favorite Little Foodie Paradise
We decided a few years ago that we would much rather take what appears to be a slower, roundabout route to Lopez Island than deal with the traffic in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Port Townsend fits perfectly with this plan.
Leaving Port Townsend, we take a small ferry to Whidbey Island and drive up island to Anacortes, where we catch the ferry to the San Juan Islands. But first, we can never resist a couple of days near the tiny hamlet of Edison-Bow. It’s a haven for small farms and local delights, Pacific Northwestern style.
Biking to Edison on peaceful country roads
Fireweed and the Cascade Mountains
Downtown Edison; it’s about two blocks long
The Breadfarm Bakery is an essential stop
The cocoa nib cookies are irresistible. So are the hazelnut espresso. And the coconut shortbread.
Stopping for breakfast at the Rhody Café in Bow, Washington
Samish Bay Cheese has a wonderful assortment of hand crafted cheeses
The Farm-to-Market Bakery in Bow is another essential stop
A lime-soaked polenta cake came home with us, served with berries and sour cream
Sweet little farmers’ market in Edison
The very picturesque Bow Hill Blueberry Farm
Such a great stop; fresh blueberries and all kinds of delicious hand crafted blueberry deliciousness. And a kitty.
About the campground:
We always stay at Bay View State Park, just a six-mile bike ride from Edison. It’s generally a peaceful park, especially in the front RV section. This time, we ended up in a different area, next to a big central field, which we discovered is where parents turn their kids loose to run wild and free. Particularly on the Fourth of July weekend, which also happened to be Canada Day weekend. My first thought was, “Oh, no way am I staying here. Let’s get on the ferry to Lopez!” But then we couldn’t help but laugh at the circus passing by our site. Fortunately, it quieted down at night.
We still like Bay View State Park. But we probably won’t go back on a holiday or summer weekend. A few RV sites have full hook ups (in the section where we usually stay, sites 1-9). Other sites just have water/electric, and they’re not suitable for big rigs. Verizon coverage is good.
We’re squished into the corner of the curve next to the free-for-all-playfield. This little guy has apparently just been released from prison.
The speedway at Bay View Campground, right in front of our site. The show went on for hours.
Sunset at Bay View Campground